Dallas Keuchel, Wherefore Art Thou Control?
Houston Astros’ fans have to be thinking that the Monstars from Space Jam have taken over the talents of several of the hometown players this year. Carlos Correa started off the season hitting three homers in the first series versus the Yankees, but has zero since. Dallas Keuchel beat the Yankees despite allowing four walks, but he is not the same pitcher that won the Cy Young Award last year. Tyler White burst onto the scene to begin the season but has struggled to hit recently.
While I doubt five tiny aliens took these guys ability like in Space Jam, fans are looking for answers after a 9-18 start following last night’s win. The Astros showed some promise last night, but it’s hard to get too excited until the Astros win two games in a row or more. The team that was projected to go to the World Series this season has yet to win back-to-back games this year.
The biggest surprise so far in my eyes is the struggles of Keuchel. While he had a rough start to his major league career in 2013, he has been one of the better pitchers in baseball the past two seasons. He has begun the season with a 2-4 record with a 5.11 ERA. He lost his first home game since 2014, breaking a 17-game winning streak at home. A streak like that is hard to maintain, he would eventually lose a game at home, but it’s how he is losing that is worrisome.
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Keuchel’s success has been from his ability to get the ground ball in critical situations to get out of trouble. Last year, his ground ball percentage was at 61.7% following his 63.5% in 2014. This year, his ground ball percentage is down to similar to where he was in 2013 with 55.5%. Instead of getting ground balls, the hitters have an increased line drive percentage, 18.7% to 23.6%. Maybe the hitters have finally identified what Keuchel’s weaknesses.
One of the most glaring difference has been his control. From the get go versus the Yankees, Keuchel has struggled with command, including walking in a run in Monday’s game. Last year, Keuchel averaged 1.98 walks per nine innings pitched, but has spiked to 4.38 in 2016. Because Keuchel has not shown the command this year, he does not get the close calls.
Because he is not getting the close pitches called strikes, he is forced to throw more pitches in the strike zone. He doesn’t get to live on the corners, which helps get him the ground balls. With his control issues, he is taking away what he does best to win. It is unknown what the causes are for why he is struggling with his command, but that is what makes him the bearded ace.
Hopefully, he will bounce back and regain his form. Otherwise, he might be he might become a regular guy.
***Stats from Fangraphs***